I open the front door this afternoon, at our recently re-occupied house inside the District of Columbia barely three miles from the White House, and I see:
And my first thought is: this is not what you'd see three miles from Zhongnanhai [seat of power] in Beijing. Actually, that was my second thought. The first one was, "where is the camera?" -- and the deer were blase enough to stick around while I got it.
Yes, yes, I know that deer are the new rats of American cities, graceful but nonetheless troublesome supersized vermin. Still, the stark difference in circumstances of daily life in the two capitals -- the background sights, the routine nuisances and pleasures that shape consciousness -- makes it remarkable that officials of the two governments can communicate about issues as well as they do. Here is what I would see when I walked out my front door in Beijing, about as far from Zhongnanhai as my DC house is from Pennsylvania Avenue:
Yes, sure, I could find something similar in a three-mile radius of the White House too. But you couldn't find anything in Beijing like a deer-filled front yard. (I have seen people in Chinese cities trapping ducks and pigeons to eat. How long would venison on the hoof last?) I put up these pictures mainly for the benefit of readers in China. It is hard to convey to people who have lived only in one of the two countries how different everything about daily life can feel in the other. I'm still in that fleeting stage where I notice. But that will pass.
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James Fallows is a staff writer at The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Jimmy Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the 2018 book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which was a national best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.